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Archive for January, 2017

SPEED SISTERS WORLD PREMIERE

Wednesday, January 25th, 2017

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SPEED SISTERS WORLD PREMIERE

The first all-women race car driving team in the Middle East. They’re bold. They’re fearless. And they’re tearing up tracks all over Palestine.

Opening dates are set!.  Drive over to the theater and make sure you catch this one.

San Francisco, CA Roxie Theater - Opens January 27, 2017

New York, NY Cinema Village - Opens February 10, 2017

Here is my review of Speed Sisters.

http://www.avmaniacs.com/blog/2016/new-reviews/steven-ruskin/speed-sisters-2015-dvd-review/

The Mad Magician 3D/2D (1954) Blu-Ray Review

Saturday, January 14th, 2017

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Stars – Vincent Price, Eva Gabor, Patrick O’Neal, Lenitia Lane, John Emery, The Three Stooges
Director – John Brahm

Released by Twilight Time
Limited edition of 3,000 Units
Available at Screenarchives.com and Twilighttimemovies.com

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

Despite being something of a Mulligan’s Stew with a heapin’ helpin’ of House of Wax hot sauce there is a lot to like in The Mad Magician. Vincent Price plays an inventor of elaborate magic tricks. Lately he has had it with a string of puffed up magicians using his tricks to make their fame and fortune. He has scraped together enough money to finance his own show. He figures he can do his own tricks. He also uses super realistic masks to impersonate the very magicians who normally perform his tricks. We see him do a clever bit with a magic wand transferring spouts of water from here to there. There is a magic consultant in the credits leaving one to believe that some of less complicated tricks are done for real. Fooled me either way. The masks that Vincent Price uses are also incredibly well done. Although the actual faces that he wears are done by the other actors in the film. Ted Newsom points out in the excellent Making Of featurette that it is the same stunt that Martin Landau used to do in all those Mission Impossible TV shows when he impersonated someone. Right as Price is ready to unveil his thrilling new buzz saw trick the cops come in and stop the show. His evil and despicable boss claims he owns the rights to everything Price created whether at work or on his own. He even has the obnoxious Renaldo the Magician in tow.

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Naturally Price gets mad, hence the title. He uses his new buzz saw trick to start his trail of revenge. It’s a scary sequence with a huge circular saw blade.  He tops it later on in the picture with a flaming incinerator chamber.  It’s pretty clear that Price is kinda doing much of what he did in the more stylized House of Wax movie a year earlier. Instead of his precious wax figures being burned down he has his fabulous tricks stolen from him. The setting is yet another city in the Elizabethan time period. Amidst the plot and character borrowings one device stood out to me. When Price needs to dispose of a body, without a head, he disguises it as a football player complete with a helmet and marches off with it over his shoulder to the local University pep rally where the students and team have started a huge bonfire. In a scene that is absolutely reminiscent of if not outright taken from director John Brahm‘s Hangover Square he ambles up a ladder and places the disguised body on top of the pyre. Vincent Price and Laird Cregar both follow their director in body disposal technique.

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What really drives this film is watching Vincent Price. He’s a great actor and perfectly suited to these kinds of roles. He may play a bit too broadly for some taste but I along with many others enjoy his style. We can see him exhibiting the same kind of posturing he used when he played more mainstream characters in Laura and Leave Her To Heaven before he became entrenched in the horror genre. Attention should also be paid to Lenitia Lane who plays a landlady who writes mystery novels. Like an early version of Angela Lansbury in the Murder She Wrote TV series she is onto him. Lane’s character is immensely likeable. Eva Gabor known to many from the  Green Acres TV show brings that unmistakable accent and sophisticated charm to her role here. Director Brahm uses the 3D effect here more for creating tableaus that reveal planes of depth. He’ll set something up in the foreground, middle ground and background giving each its own framing. We do get a couple of gimmicky gotchas. There is a guy who flings his toy yo-yos at us much like the man with the paddle ball toy in House of Wax.

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I just saw the recently released Blu-Rays from Kino of two other films by John Brahm – The Undying Monster and The Lodger. This director really deserves much more recognition than the gets. He was capable of creating incredible atmosphere and moving the camera very deftly through scenes in some of his films. His works include The Undying Monster (1942), The Lodger (1944) , Hangover Square (1945), and The Locket (1946). He later worked extensively in television turning in episodes of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Thriller, The Outer Limits and Twilight Zone. Brahm directed the fan favorite – Time Enough at Last (1959) with Burgess Meredith. He did Hot Rods to Hell(1967) another fun one with Dana Andrews. It’s nice to have a group of fine films from John Brahm come out like this in the HD format. The feature is only 72 minutes so there is plenty of time to take in these two great shorts that come with it.

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Pardon My Backfire / Spooks! – 1953 Comedy Shorts Starring The Three Stooges

Two fun Three Stooges shorts both available in 3D and regular 2D make a terrific warm up for the main feature. Most of us are completely used to seeing The Three Stooges on TV or collected in some of those excellent DVD sets put out by Sony. Those were presented in the flat 1.33:1 format like TV used to be. Aside from the 3D what will instantly grab you is seeing the boys in a widescreen 1.85:1 presentation. Pardon My Backfire looks great. Spooks! looks off the charts incredible. Never ever thought I’d see Moe, Larry and Shemp looking this good. Both shorts are lots of fun with some exaggerated 3D effects. Everything from car radios to butcher knives and bats will come flying at you in these. Thanks to the dramatic increase in detail you can see the wire or string holding up the fake bat and guiding some of the thrown objects. You have no business complaining about that in a Stooges short.

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Video – 3D in 1.85:1 and Regular 2D in 1.85:1
If you have a 3D capable player and TV the disc will default to 3D. Without that it will default to 2D. There is a marked increase in detail throughout the entire feature. The darker scenes and nighttime exteriors offer nice black levels and very solid contrast. The picture quality is excellent. Some of the interiors while still affording a nice sharpness look a little on the bright side for my taste.

Audio – DTS HD MA 1.0 in English with subtitles offered in English SDH
All dialogue is easily understandable. Music and effects fit well in the track.

Extras – Twilight Time’s signature isolated score track, Commentary by film historians David Del Valle and Steven Peros / Master of Fright!: Conjuring The Mad Magician / Original theatrical trailer

The production by Ballyhoo on the Master of Fright featurette is outstanding. The interviewees are lit in a fun and atmospheric way. Often their observations and comments are played over a short section of the film instead of letting the sequence go on by itself. After all we likely just saw the main feature. We learn a good deal about the elements that went into the film as well as the 3D aspects. The historians and film mavens featured are all fans of both Vincent Price and the movie at hand. Twilight Time appears to be including more fresh extras in their releases. Nicely done.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic:

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Good / Excellent

It’s A Wonderful Life 70th Anniversary Platinum Edition (1946) Blu-Ray Review

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

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Stars – James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers, Gloria Grahame
Director – Frank Capra

Released by Paramount

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The quintessential holiday film? The feel good movie to beat all others? Seeing It’s A Wonderful Life on Television is such a common occurrence. For many it has became part of a holiday tradition. For others it is just a film that has become as familiar on TV as seeing The Wizard of Oz the film. Yet the film offers up the best of feel good Americana that director Frank Capra has to offer. Capra’s films have long championed the underdog and celebrated the regular guy. His movies are often referred to as Capracorn and they certainly are. Meet John Doe (1941), Mr. Deeds Goes To Town (1934), Mr. Smith Goes To Washington (1939), Lost Horizon (1937) and It Happened One Night (1934) are all very solid films with that share a common belief in the human spirit. I heartily recommend any of these. It’s A Wonderful Life is the director’s favorite. The story lays out his philosophy plainly and simply. Each life matters a great deal. It’s a very compelling tale and one capable of putting a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye.

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When we first meet James Stewart he is about to do away with himself. An angel shows him just what the life of everybody he knows would be without him. It’s a simple device and it works remarkably well. During the coarse of the film’s 130 minute running time we get to genuinely appreciate the effect this man had had on those around him. There is a crack in one of Woody Allen’s films when he asks one character if he grew up in a Norman Rockwell painting. The town and all the people living there looks and behave exactly that way. It is a big sloppy slice of American pie served up with ice cream on top. Along the way we see a richness of character in the beautiful way the film was cast. Lionel Barrymore plays Mr. Potter as a villain that lives to crush the life and goodness out of everything. H.B. Warner who slaps the young George Bailey’s ear so bad when the kid actually saved someone’s live brings a real pathos to the event. Gloria Grahame is enchanting as Violet. Donna Reed, if you only know her from her TV show, is a revelation here. Henry Travers is the best angel anyone could ever hope to have.  James Stewart showed the range he always had in him.  The growth he showed as an actor in the films that he made with Alfred Hitchcock and Anthony Mann did not come out of nowhere.  Then there is that fabulous scene when everyone is dancing and the dance floor begins to open up below the party crowd. Instead of freaking out Stewart and Reed do this lovely dance bit and then one by one it becomes the thing to do and they all jump in the pool.

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The film has been around a lot. There have been many editions available through the years. This Platinum Edition gets the job done very nicely. On that one day when you are snowed in the house or that one deep dark night when you need this film and it’s not on TV this is a very handy edition to have.

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Video – 1.37:1
The Black and White film looks simply wonderful here. Having been so used to seeing it on broadcast Television it is refreshing to see this edition sport a nicely detailed image. Blacks are solid and the entire gray scale gets a more than fair shake. The sharpness in faces during many of the close ups looks terrific. There is a second disc with a colorized version. Why you would want to bother with that is beyond me when you have such a faithful representation of the original within easy reach.

Audio – Dolby Digial 2.0 in Original English, French and Spanish. Subtitles offered in English, English SDH, French, Protuguese, and Spanish
Everything said is easily understandable.

Extras – The Making of It’s A Wonderful; Life hosted by Tom Bosley, Trailer, Set of art cards ( replicas of Lobby Cards in color).

The featurette is you haven’t seen it offers some interesting bits of trivia about the film. Tom Bosley (Happy Days) recognizes the film as the holiday favorite is has become.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

Blu-Ray – Excellent

Movie – Classic

The Red Skelton Hour in Color Unreleased Seasons (1960-70) DVD Review

Sunday, January 8th, 2017

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Stars – Red Skelton, Tim Conway, Boris Karloff, Vincent Price, John Wayne, Simon and Garfunkel, Milton Berle, Jackie Coogan, Audrey Meadows, Mickey Rooney, George Gobel, Phyllis Diller, Martha Raye, Robert Goulet, Merv Griffin

Released by Time Life

Reviewed by Steven Ruskin

The sixties offered a golden age of sketch comedy. Back then Carol Burnett and her TV show was the top of the game. Variety Hours and shows that featured comedy sketches done before a live audience were a real treat. Various guests stars from movies and television were thrust on stage with season regulars to hold their. Many off them seemed to have a great time with it. Sometime they had such a good time that they flubbed lines or were so caught up in the humor that they just lost it and cracked up on stage. Red Skelton had a long running show that served up a two act comedy bit with guest stars. In this three disc set we get twelve complete episodes.

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Each show opens with a monologue. Red is so excited he can’t wait to share a series of flat out corny jokes with the audiences. Often he’ll act out a dialogue between two seagulls, Gertrude and Healthclife. He tucks his hands under his armpits and flaps his “wings” as they chat back and forth. The joke has nothing to do with being a seagull. It’s just another funny way to tell one. He’ll use a hat in different ways to pretend to be various characters. All of this is in service to material that is nothing special but his unbridled enthusiasm and delivery puts it over. The bulk of the show is devoted to a two act play that features each week’s guests. Again the writing is not particularly inspired but the sets up gets things going. Skelton had developed a series of stock characters to play such as Clem Kadiddlehopper and Freddie The Freeloader. After the play he’d do a pantomime bit. He was quite good at it but most of the humor came from the variety of classic sound effects that the audience expected. Red would often play with the timing to confuse the effects person. Those mistakes were frequently the funniest part in these bits.

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The sketches were easily the most fun. What a treat it is to see horror icons Boris Karloff and Vincent Price hamming it up in a sketch about a robot they have created. They both easily embrace the style of the show and appear to have a great time. The two of them and Red even sing a very silly song. For my money one of the best at this type of comedy was Tim Conway. He was so good he could improvise at the drop of a hat. Conway was so funny that no one was safe from losing while he was on stage. He plays a hippie to Skelton’s hobo in a bit set in a city park. In no time Conway has flown off script and is on his own. Red looks him in the eye and asks if he is going to even bother glancing at the cue cards. Conway submits to a gross and sloppy mud bath facial in another bit in the same show. The guests stars to go with this kind of loose comedy are the ones that are the most fun. This is certainly not high brow or witty humor but it will crack you up.

The sketches includes in this set are:
When Nut-Hood Was in Flower with Milton Berle
Autograph Hounds with John Wayne
Hippie Days Are Here Again with Tim Conway and Jackie Coogan
He Who Steals My Robot Steals Trash with Boris Karloff, Vincent Price
Eenie Meenie Minee Schmo Mickey Rooney – Simon & Garfunkel make an appearance on this show
Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Dumb with George Gobel
Dial M for Moron with Phyllis Diller
The Revenge of Prudence Pennyfeather with Martha Raye
The Fastest Cuspidor in the West with Robert Goulet
The Red Skelton Scrapbook with John Wayne (guest host)
The Best Thing to Get Out of Marriage Is to Get Out of Marriage with Audrey Meadows
If at First You Don’t Succeed, Forget It with Merv Griffin

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Video – 1.33:1
Every episode is in color. All of the material in entirely viewable and enjoyable. Do not expect reference quality remasters here. Not all of the source material yields extra sharp detail

Audio – Mono
All dialogue is easily understandable. You’ll have to pay close attention to catch some of the very funny ad-libbed asides that get thrown around.

Extras – New interviews with Bobby Rydell and Vicki Lawrence.
Those nice neither of these short interviews are particularly memorable.

On a scale of Poor, Fair, Good, Excellent, Classic :

DVD – Good

TV Series Episodes – Classic